Do You Re-read Books?

This past weekend, I curled up in my comfy red-and-gold chair (after removing the gold cat, who makes the chair more gold than red), and I re-read THE HOBBIT.  I haven’t read THE HOBBIT since …  maybe college?  High school?  Maybe even junior high?

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(I know that I first read the book as required reading in fifth grade, and I re-read it numerous times in middle school.  The copy I read this past weekend was highly annotated — I planned on turning the novel into a play, and I struck through vast quantities of narration so that all of the dialog was ripe for the plucking.  The strike-throughs didn’t keep me from reading this time around, but I can’t *imagine* what I was thinking about my future as an adaptor.  Although, I did adapt THE LITTLE PRINCE and ILLUSIONS for successful school plays in ninth grade, so maybe I *was* onto something!)

In any case, it was a fun book to re-read.  I remembered huge swaths of the story (although, oddly, I’d almost completely forgotten about Beorn.)  I justified my wrath with the bloated movie version.  I laughed at some of the quaint language.

I actually intend to re-read LotR in the near future.  But generally, I don’t re-read books very often.  I don’t have a lot of time to read, because I work from home, so I no longer have a subway commute to fill with great books.  I’m a slow reader, so any book I choose to read represents a fairly substantial investment of my time.  A lot of my reading choices are occupied by books that I *must* read — either for editing clients, or for the Book View Cafe co-op, or to stay abreast of developments in the genres where I write.  All of those factors combine to make re-reads “cost” a lot.

But there are long lists of books I want to re-read — Patricia McKillip’s THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD.  R.A. MacAvoy’s TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON.  The early Pern books.  Etc., etc., etc.  Obviously, I need to manage my time a lot better than I’m currently doing.

So.  How about you?  Do you re-read books?  If you do, how do you choose which ones to re-read?  How often do you set aside books, realizing that they aren’t as good as you remember them to be?  How often do you discover greater depths that you missed on earlier rounds?

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If It Were UP TO ME…

One of the great things about writing romance is that you get to hang out with a lot of amazing women (and the very, very, very rare men) who write romance.  The Romance Writers of America is an active writers organization, and a *lot* of its business is done through local chapters.  I’m a member of two of those chapters — the Washington Romance Writers and the Maryland Romance Writers.  Even though the Maryland group meets 1.25 hours from my home, I regularly attend the meetings because I get so much out of them (guidance, support, and great insight into the crazy business we’ve all chosen to work in!)

The best benefit of Maryland Romance Writers, though, hands down is getting to know the members.  Christi Barth is one of those members — in fact, she’s the chapter’s president.  She is one of the most organized, energetic, enthusiastic, positive, upbeat, encouraging…  okay, you get the idea.  (She’s also an incredible companion for afternoon tea!)

And Christi is celebrating the release week of a new contemporary romance, the first in a series.  Here’s the fun cover:

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And here’s what the book’s all about:

Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel. But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.

Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.

Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.

And you can buy your copy here:

Amazon | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Carina Press | Google Play

Wait?!?  You still haven’t made up your mind?  You’re not certain that UP TO ME is the perfect summer read?  Well, then, you should check out this excerpt:

“Come do yoga with me tomorrow.”

“I’m a guy. We’re all about being hard and stiff, not soft and bendy.”

Ella blinked rapidly to clear the images of a naked, hard-muscled Gray that popped into her mind. And hardness…other places. “Don’t be so close-minded. Didn’t you end up enjoying the massage I gave you?”

“Yes.” He sounded adorably sulky at being forced to acknowledge it. Why was it that men found it so hard to admit when they were wrong? Definitely a topic of discussion for her next margarita night with the girls.

“See? You can’t dismiss something out of hand without at least trying it.”

Gray wrinkled his nose. “Do I have a choice?”

“No.” Ella brought up her other hand to cup his face. “You deserve to be looked after. It’s not much, I know, but let me help you in the only way I can.”

“I’ll do it—”

Ella bounced a little. “Terrific.”

“—on one condition. I’ve just come up with a good plan for stress release. Let’s try my way first.” Gray wove his fingers through the loose knit of her turquoise sweater. In one swift move, he pulled it off over her head and tossed it into the corner. “Come swimming with me. Right now.”

Was he serious? To stall for time while she processed the preposterous suggestion, Ella stammered, “We…we don’t have suits.”

“You said the pool’s still officially closed. No one will interrupt us.” He toyed with the strap of her matching tank. “You’ve got this thing. I’m wearing boxer briefs. We’ll be more covered up than in suits. Unless you don’t think you can control yourself around me?”

That was it in a nutshell. Not that she’d admit it to Gray. Not when he had that sharp eyebrow arched and a smug quirk to his lips. If he was trying to shock her…well, he had, no denying that. But what better way was there to embrace life fully than to embrace a dripping wet, mostly naked Gray? While she’d never work up the courage to tell him, this was the kind of activity Dr. T. would probably applaud. Or at least give her a gold star. He had asked her to email him with progress reports if anything big happened. Unable to resist, she glanced down at Gray’s crotch. Ella expected something very big, indeed, was about to happen.

“Water’s extremely therapeutic,” she said in her most serious, I’m massaging you but not judging your naked body in any way professional voice. “Swimming is a good counterpart to yoga. They use the same long muscles.”

Yup. Her matter-of-fact delivery dropped his eyebrow back to its usual straight line and wiped the smug from his lips. Ella kept the surprises rolling. She stood, unbuttoned her skirt and let it slide the floor into a big blue puddle. Then she reached out, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him sideways into the pool with her.

The simultaneous body flops slapped noise and water all around the room. Ella recovered first, treading water while waiting for Gray to get his bearings and surface. Keeping her head above water was easy. Breathing, however, was not, as she was laughing her head off at catching him off guard. Finally, with much thrashing and churning of the water, Gray popped up near the middle of the pool.

“What the hell?” he yelled, his voice bouncing off the rocks with a hollow echo. “I’m wearing clothes!”

“So take them off,” she yelled back. Geez, it was his idea. Ella had just implemented it without talking it to death first. She’d thought he’d appreciate her spontaneity.

Gray stared at her for a minute, totally unreadable. Then his head disappeared beneath the water again. In fact, he sank straight to the bottom. It worried her. But just until a heavy, sodden pair of jeans landed like a giant blue spitwad in front of her. Laughing, she tossed them over her shoulder in the general direction of their shoes. Then Gray’s shirt appeared, floating near the filter. Something she’d have to remember to retrieve before morning when maintenance would make their final sweep before reopening the pool.

She felt Gray first. His head brushed against her stomach. Using her body like a swim ladder, he climbed it with his hands until just those brilliant blue eyes broke the surface. Blinked at her once. Then he tilted his head back and arced a stream of water from his lips to the dead center of her forehead. Laughing even harder, Ella reached under his shoulders to pull him the rest of the way up.

That’s when the laughter stopped. When buoyancy slammed his oh my God so hard cock right against her. When it was the most natural thing in the world to wrap her legs tight around him to keep him nestled against all her heat and what felt like every freaking nerve ending in her body. And when she twined her arms around his neck just for the thrill of rubbing her breasts across his chest.

With two powerful kicks, Gray propelled them to the wall. He sandwiched Ella against it and hung on to the rocks to keep them both afloat. “I’m on board with your idea. As you can tell.” He ground against her in a way that absolutely proved not only that he was enthusiastic about stripping, but that there was definitely nothing between them other than two thin, skintight layers of cotton. Gray’s impressive length was no longer just an impression or wishful thinking. It was hard and long and she couldn’t wait to impale herself on him. For now, she locked her ankles together and let the water do most of the work of bobbing her up and down in a rhythmic, full-body caress.

Water glistened at the tips of his lashes. Ella kissed it away, then just kept heading south. Over his early-evening stubble. Down past the Adam’s apple that jerked reflexively. She’d always thought them sexy. So uniquely masculine.

A nibble in the hollow of his collarbone. Down till her lips were just underwater, closed around his nipple. Ella flicked it against her teeth. Gray…growled? Whatever the noise was, it came from deep inside him and turned her core body temperature up by about twenty percent.

* * *

Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage.  A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning.  Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.  Christi is President of the Maryland Romance Writers and lives in Maryland with her husband.

You can read more about Christi and her fun, sexy contemporary romances here:

Website | Blog | Pinterest | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page |Facebook

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On the Right Track

I spent this past Saturday at a writing seminar taught by Candace Havens and Liz Pelletier. Candace presented her Fast Track writing workshop (write a novel in a month), and Liz presented her three-part Edit Like a Professional workshop.  Both women were friendly and engaging, and they handled lots of questions from the very engaged group.

Candace’s Fast Track program turns out to be a version of what I’ve been doing to complete the Diamond Brides.  Candace measures her progress in pages, rather than words, and she relies heavily on group accountability — announcing that you’re working, announcing that you’ve worked.  But aside from those two differences, we both believe in writing every day, writing till you’ve met your goal for the day, turning off your internal editor to just get words down, and reveling in the way our subconscious minds know the story and track the story and relate the story — often better than our conscious minds could do.

(Candace also advocates a positive attitude — there is no whining in Fast Track — an approach that I *try* to emulate on a daily basis!)

Liz’s editing sessions emphasized a somewhat different system than my own — she advocates three editing passes.  The first is an overall read-through without any commenting on the actual manuscript (focusing on the global aspects of the story), the second is a firm editing pass of the story, and the third is a copy-edit-ish pass of the actual text.  (She has different terms; I’m summarizing.)

I found that greatest value in Liz’s admonishments to edit the story — both what is (duh!) and *isn’t* there.  She advises writers to look for missing scenes, to realize when they’ve forgotten to include vital information, etc. — vital reminders, especially to those of us writing fast.

(With regard to actual text, Liz and I are in almost complete agreement about grammar and usage — she values the Oxford comma as much as I do! — but we’ll have to agree to disagree about exclamation points, which she says should never be in a novel.)

So, useful sessions, as reminders of what I should be doing, if nothing else :-)

Alas, I ended up missing the Sunday sessions, due to my pinching a nerve in my neck while I was engaging in the extraordinary task of *getting dressed*.  Yes, ladies and gents, I have skilz!

So, Sunday was a quiet day around here — I finished reading BRING UP THE BODIES (which I loved, loved, loved), and I finished knitting my Wingspan shawl in summer blues and greens (which I love, love, love), and similar high-value activities :-)

And now, it’s time to get back to writing.  Without whining.  Because there’s no whining in Fast Track or in Klasky Rapid Release :-)

What did *you* do this weekend?

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Balancing the Books

Years ago, one of my friends set up three to-be-read piles in his apartment — fiction, non-fiction, and classics.  He read in order, taking the top book on each pile, alternating between the three piles, always adding new books to the bottom.

Me?  I pretty much smash-and-grab.

I have a *lot* of books on my to-be-read shelf.  And more on my wish list.  And even more that are on the bookshelves scattered through our house — books that belonged to Mark and that look inviting, if I ever find the time to get to them.

Alas, I read relatively slowly.  And when I’m busy (socially or with work or whatever), the only reading time I have is the 15 minutes or so before I fall asleep each night.  I’m gradually coming to accept that I’ll never read all the to-be-read books in my life.  (I’m having a much harder time accepting that than I am, say, accepting that I’ll never win a medal at the Olympics…)

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Given the general craziness in Klaskyville for the past few months, I’ve been reading mostly “candy” — contemporary romance, YA, light literary novels.  But last week, during Staycation, I decided I was up for something with a bit more meat.  I pulled up a book I’ve been meaning to get to for over a year — Hilary Mantel’s BRING UP THE BODIES (the second volume in her chronicle of Thomas Cromwell’s life.)

I am *loving* it.  I’m loving the language — both what she says (and what she doesn’t) and how she says it.  I’m loving the characterization, which is accomplished with such an economy of language that I’m astonished.  I’m loving the history, at least viewed through Mantel’s lens.

I’ve been holding off on “thought” books, on “literary” books, on “hard” books, because I’ve been juggling so much.  But maybe, just maybe, I was making a mistake.

How about you?  What types of books do you turn to when life is chaotic?

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Favorite Book of the Year

It’s no secret that things have been a bit crazy here in Klaskyville — I have a book coming out in a week, and a different book coming out in three weeks, and yet another different book coming out in five weeks.  I’m editing a fourth book and writing a fifth book — and that’s just the writing stuff that’s going on! (In addition, there’s the usual mix of family and friends and Smithsonian classes and cultural activities and, and, and…)

In recognition of the generally high level of crazy, I decided not to tackle any of the truly challenging books on my to-be-read shelf.  You know–the big fat fantasies that are nearly 1000 pages long that would take me more than a month to read under *good* circumstances.  Or the slender volume of literature that is crafted, word by word, like a 50,000-word poem.  Or the Deep and Meaningful Issues Book that will leave me in tears for day.

Instead, I decided to use this crazy time to read through the “shrug” books.  Those are the ones that I picked up for one reason or another — usually at conference, or because I had a book event with the author.  I didn’t know before the book was in my hand that I was interested in it. And, alas, I often discover that I’m *not* interested in it — I was inspired by the moment, but I’m not the right reader for that particular book.  Most shrug books get donated to the library within 50 pages.  Some get donated within 25.

I didn’t-read two books on my shrug list.  And then I picked up Linda Grimes’ first book, IN A FIX.

And, reader, I fell in love.

in a fix

IN A FIX is a light urban fantasy (not my favorite genre by a long shot) narrated by Ciel Hannigan, a human “adaptor”, a chameleon sort of person who can take on the aura of any person she’s touched, so that she looks and sounds like that person.  Ciel hires herself out to people who’d rather not be present for one reason or another.  When an easy gig results in a beach cabana being destroyed around her, Ciel is in a fix.  This book made me — literally — laugh out loud multiple times.  I loved, loved, loved the supporting characters, including the three alpha males who think they can run Ciel’s life.  This book reminded me of early Sue Grafton, but the romance is a *lot* hotter than anything Kinsey Milhone ever tripped through.

I bought the second book immediately after finishing the first.

So?  What about you?  Any fun spring reads filling your days?

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Happy Bookday, Daughters of the Nile!

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One of my closest writer-friends is celebrating a book release today!  Stephanie Dray’s DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE is one of the books I’ve most been looking forward to reading this year!  It’s the third (and last) in her series about Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the Cleopatra from Elizabeth Taylor/Shakespeare’s play/other sources fame.  I loved, loved, loved the first two books in this series — true historical women’s fiction, with tons of historical research and just a touch of magic.  You can read more about this incredible book below!

* * *

From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter.

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

Read the Reviews

“A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray’s crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life.” ~RT Book Reviews

“The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned…” ~Modge Podge Reviews

“If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you.” ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I’m paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don’t notice that I’m gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.

And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, “That’s enough. We’ve seen enough of the snake charmer!”

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, “Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?”

The story the world tells of my mother’s suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor’s agents or whoever else is responsible for this.

If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. “Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away.”

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. “Oh, but they’re never far enough away.”

###

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Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads

lily-of-the-nile-comp
Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads

Stephanie-Dray-Headshot-smallerSTEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

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